I don't know many people that would call Wall Street a subtle movie. I don't know many people who would call Oliver Stone a subtle director, either. But what that man has done with this film is taking a fairly basic story and turned it into a critique of the back dealings in a capitalist society, filled with broad but interesting characters and enough content to occupy its two-hour running time. All in all, it's a success, even if it's a little silly at times.
The lead is a stock broker for a Wall Street firm, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), who has a hard enough time just getting by, let alone becoming a success. At the end of every business day, he calls the office of a very prominent business man, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), only to be told that they're not buying whatever he wants to sell. The persistence eventually pays off, however, and after doing something illegal, Bud becomes Mr. Gekko's new right-hand man, so to speak. They don't do a lot together, but they speak on the phone and they make a boatload of cash. The rags-to-riches story begins.
Of course, there has to be a downfall, and a villain, and a love interest (Daryl Hannah). It turns out that you need to be quite ruthless in the world where millions of dollars can be won or lost on a daily basis, and that's soon something that Bud has to find out. His father, Carl (Martin Sheen), works for an airline company, and is the prototypical working class man. You can see where the conflict is and how each of the older men in Bud's life fit into the critique here. Start to guess how conflict will occur. You probably won't be wrong.
Each of these characters is easy. Bud is the impressionable man who gets charmed into a life that's not meant for him; Gordon is the charming, confident man who can turn on a dime if it means making more money; Carl doesn't care about money -- he just wants to be happy enough; Darien (Hannah) is materialistic and wants to be with the man who will provide her with whatever she wants. That's about as deep as anyone goes. The film around them is more important.
I didn't understand much of the technical jargon involved with Wall Street. People were buying and trading stocks and I was having none of it. It doesn't matter, though, because the reason behind it and the impact that a decision has is all made clear. That's one of the things that you have to appreciate from Stone in this film; even if you don't fully appreciate the way the ins and outs of the stock market work, you'll be able to comprehend why each action made by a character matters in the context of the film.
Money is all that is important to Gordon Grekko. That's the bottom line. It's not even about using that money, or even having it; he wants to win these exchanges just to have more of it. Acquiring the money is the goal. He has more than he'll ever need before the movie even begins, but in the first scene that Bud sees him, he fields a handful of pressing phone calls, ones that have the potential to earn or cost him millions. And the value placed on money is where Wall Street really has its fun.
There is no value placed on anything else in the movie, at least, from Gordon's perspective. It's all about the money. That is where the real critique is. That almost everyone, not just the incredibly wealthy, puts such an importance on money, regardless of the ramifications it takes to acquire it or the impact that doing so has on everyone else. Buy a company and then dismantle it, cutting a thousand jobs in the process? If it makes a profit, it would be done by more people than not. Or so the movie claims.
Where the film stutters is in doing absolutely nothing different from a basic storyline that you've seen before. Guy starts working his way up in the world, reaches the top, and then has to deal with that success -- often falling all the way back down again before finding a happy medium. That's not exactly what happens here, but it's close enough and you'll see pretty much everything coming way ahead of time. It surprises you in its subtext, but not in its narrative.
Charlie Sheen has the leading role, and he plays his character very stiffly. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- it allows him to often seem overwhelmed by the world he has entered -- but any emotional scenes, of which there are maybe two, don't quite work as a result. The real star is Michael Douglas, who is charismatic enough to really like, but devilish enough to hate. He has a sick charm to him that's infectious but at the same time evil. He steals the show in every scene he's in.
Wall Street isn't going to really turn any heads, but as a light social critique and a moderately proficient drama, it works. It has polar opposite lead actors, some slick dialogue, and definitely makes its point. Its story is basic and predictable, and any emotion falls completely flat because of the route Charlie Sheen took his character, but the film isn't really about these broad caricatures; it's more concerned with drilling its point home in an entertaining way. It succeeds at this aim, and is a fun watch.
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